Turkish-Greek Aegean Dispute: A 6 Month Outlook (July 2022)

    Turkey and Greece are reviving their age-old dispute over territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. The dispute over the militarization of Greece’s eastern islands and illegal Turkish drilling operations are placing enormous strain on intra-NATO relations.

    KJ-1: It is unlikely that Turkey or Greece will escalate the present dispute through force in the next 6 months. 

    • Communal violence which erupted in Cyprus in the 1970s exacerbated Greco-Turkish relations [source]. The Cypriot question continually frustrates efforts at resolution.
    • Surveys conducted by Greece have revealed substantial deposits of natural gas within the disputed areas. Turkey contests Greek drilling rights and territorial sovereignty in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean [source]. 
    • A potential Turkish annexation of northern Cyprus may also inflame the Aegean crisis [source]. A 2002 law passed by Turkey qualifies attempts to extend Greece’s territorial waters as a ‘casus belli’ [source]. Nevertheless, both Erdogan and Mitsotakis agreed last month to keep the provocative language at a minimum [source].
    • When Turkish troops and Greek special forces clashed on the islet of Imia in 1996, there was no wider escalation [source]. A collision of Greek and Turkish frigates in August of 2020 also led to a decrease in belligerent rhetoric [source].
    • Turkey’s new warship is currently undergoing sea trials and will be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean by early August [source]. It is therefore likely that Greece and Turkey will engage in naval confrontations similar to the incidents in 2020.

    KJ-2: It is highly unlikely that Turkey and Greece will arrive at a meaningful compromise over Aegean maritime boundaries or airspace in the next 6 months.

    • The Hellenistic Armed Forces have remained on ‘high alert’ throughout the month of June [source]. Turkish fighter jets regularly transgress Greek airspace. In turn, The HAF regularly scrambles fighter jets in order to intercept Turkish overflights [source]. The provocative nature of territorial incursions decreases the likelihood of reaching a compromise on maritime boundaries in the next six months.
    • Turkey is using an outdated interpretation of maritime law in order to substantiate its EEZ claims. It is one of the few states which refuse to accede to UNCLOS III [source]. Moreover, it refuses to recognize the jurisdiction of the Hague or engage in bilateral negotiations over territorial waters and airspace [source].
    • Turkey fears that the extension of Greek EEZ claims will limit its right of innocent passage through the Aegean [source].
    • The delivery of new Rafale fighter jets will likely imbue the Greeks with additional confidence, as will backing from the United States and Brussels [source].
    • Seismic surveys show that Greece is sitting on roughly 90 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. These deposits are potentially valued at 250 billion USD [source].

    KJ-3: It is highly likely that Turkey will continue to antagonize Greece and it’s European Union partners in the next 6 months with territorial incursions and bellicose rhetoric. 

    • Turkey’s Foreign Minister questioned Greek sovereignty over the entire Dodecanese archipelago. This inflamed his Greek counterparts and resulted in condemnation from NATO and the EU [source]. Turkey also persists in illegal drilling operations in the Aegean.
    • The development of Turkish amphibious assault capabilities will also likely alarm Athens further [source]. Additionally, Turkey calls the presence of Greek forces on the islands a prelude to war [source]. 
    • Turkish elections are quickly approaching. The Turkish Lira is contracting and the economy at large is suffering from a slow pandemic recovery [source].
    • Members of the Turkish opposition also use the issue of Greek sovereignty as a means of political advancement [source].
    • There is a widespread understanding in Turkey that the country has been deprived of its territorial integrity stemming from the loss of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1918 [source].

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: July 10, 2022

    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith
    Alec Smith is a graduate of the MSC International Relations program of the University of Aberdeen and holds an LLB in Global Law from Tilburg University.

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